Our Big Ten preview series is back. Over the next few weeks, we’ll make our way through the Big Ten East and West from the bottom to the top.
Our countdown continues with the Maryland Terrapins. Our Zach Pereles breaks it all down.
2014 Record: 7-6, 4-4 B1G
2015 WNUR Projected Record: 6-6, 3-5 B1G
Key Returners: Wes Brown (RB), Brandon Ross (RB), Michael Dunn (RT), Sean Davis (CB), Will Likely (CB), Anthony Nixon (S)
Key Departures: C.J. Brown (QB), Stefon Diggs (WR), Deon Long (WR), Sal Conaboy (C), Andre Monroe (DE), Darius Kilgo (DT), Keith Bowers (DE), Cole Farrand (ILB), L.A. Goree (ILB), Alex Twine (OLB), Matt Robinson (OLB)
Maryland is a pass-first team, but with dual-threat quarterback C.J. Brown last year, they were a little more balanced than usual. But Brown is gone and Caleb Rowe, who saw time two years ago when seemingly every Maryland quarterback, including Rowe, got hurt, is in line to start. He has skill but has torn his ACL twice. A gunslinger who isn’t afraid to take risks, Rowe’s health will be key this year. Unfortunately for Rowe, Maryland lost Stefon Diggs (Vikings) and Deon Long (Titans), last year’s top two wide receivers by a wide margin, to the pros. Still, Levern Jacobs, who played well in 2013, returns from a year’s worth of suspensions and Marcus Leak should take on a bigger role in his senior year. In the backfield, junior Wes Brown is yet to live up to his 4-star rating and Brandon Ross is explosive but needs to hold onto the ball. Maryland returns three starters up front, led by right tackle Michael Dunn, who has started every game of his career.
There is major overhaul here. Defensive coordinator Brian Stewart left for Nebraska and linebackers coach Keith Dudzinski takes his position. The Terrapins will use a 4-3 scheme rather than the 3-4 they ran last year. Losing Andre Monroe, who recorded 10 sacks last year, won’t help, but Yanick Ngakoue showed promise last year, registering six sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss as a sophomore. Still, four of the top defensive linemen from last year are gone, and the same is true for the linebackers. The linebacking corps might be ok, however, if its players can manage to stay healthy. What Maryland lacks in its front seven, though, it make up with their secondary. Safety Sean Davis, –who’s moving to corner this year—and corner William Likely are two absolute studs and safety Anthony Nixon played well too. All three could play at the next level. A.J. Hendy returns from suspension last year, meaning the Terps have senior experience at both safety spots. Alvin Hill, another senior, played well last year before getting hurt. In conclusion, if the front seven can manage to get by, this could be a good defense.
Special Teams Preview:
Maryland was terrific on special teams last year. Diggs and Likely were explosive returners, and while Diggs is gone, Likely is not. He took one punt and one kickoff back for touchdowns last year. At place kicker, the Terps are set. Brad Craddock is one of the best in the nation; he made all 44 extra points and 18-of-19 field goals. Punter Nathan Renfro is gone, but Maryland should still be good in the third phase of the game.
Randy Edsall’s tenure in College Park got off to a horrific start, but he finally has Maryland going in the right direction. Back-to-back seven win seasons hadn’t happened before 2013 and 2014 since 2002 and 2003. But this year will prove if Edsall’s success was more of a result of talented players or talented coaching. The Terps will have to replace a lot, but their new quarterback has starting experience, two returning running backs, and three two-year starters on the offensive line. The secondary is outstanding. How Edsall handles a lot of moving parts will make or break this season.
Best case scenario: Caleb Rowe stays healthy, one (or both) running backs find consistency, and Levern Jacobs finds his 2013 form, the front seven is halfway decent which allows the secondary to shine, and Brad Craddock knocks in a bunch of game-winners. Maryland rolls in its first three games and upsets West Virginia on the road to go 4-0 headed into Big Ten play. In Jim Harbaugh’s much-anticipated Big Ten debut, Maryland defends home turf before falling to Ohio State at The Horseshoe. Maryland only loses once more, at Michigan State, and finishes 10-2 on the season.
Worst case scenario: Rowe isn’t healthy, the running backs can’t produce, Diggs and Long are irreplaceable and the front seven never figures itself out. Maryland suffers through a 2-2 non-conference slate and loses a lot of close games to teams they are quite similar to skill-wise (Michigan, Penn State, Iowa). A 5-7 season gets Randy Edsall fired.